The world “legend” is so carelessly bandied about these days, overused and abused, applied to practically anyone who ever managed to secure more than 15 minutes of fame. But in the history of celebrity, few have deserved the modifier “legendary” more than Dick Clark, who died on April 18 at age 82 following a massive heart attack in Santa Monica, California. We’ll be hearing it a lot from now until next year’s Grammy Awards, as the tributes to Clark continue to pour in.
In some ways, Clark shaped and influenced my youth as much as any musical performer did, more than any non-musician, with the possible exception of Casey Kasem, whose America’s Top 10 Saturday-afternoon TV show and America’s Top 40 weekly radio program launched my life-long obsession with countdowns and lists. But not even Kasem was as pervasive a presence as Clark, who showed me that I could have a career in music even if I couldn’t carry a tune.
I can’t think of a time when I was growing up in Kissimmee, Florida, that I didn’t see Clark on TV every week. I’ve heard it said that Ryan Seacrest is “the next Dick Clark” (an honor also erroneously and prematurely bestowed upon Carson Daly at the dawn of this century). Twenty years from now, though, when people think of American Idol, will Seacrest come to mind?
But there’s no recalling American Bandstand, the dance party/pop-star showcase that ran on ABC from 1952 to 1989, without Clark, who hosted the program for 33 years, popping into your head, too. It introduced future icons to the masses, broke down color barriers in much the same way the late Don Cornelius would in the ’70s with Soul Train, and earned Clark a rep as “America’s oldest teenager” — and not just because he spent so much of his career surrounded by them.
Clark seemed forever preternaturally young until a stroke slowed him down in 2004. But not before he became one of the most-respected, and richest, non-entertainers in entertainment, with a resume that included Pyramid (the game show he hosted from 1973 to 1978), Dick Clark’s Rockin’ New Year’s Eve (which made Clark, who counted down to midnight as the ball dropped on New York City’s Times Square, as synonymous with America’s biggest party night as he was with America’s biggest dance party), TV’s Bloopers & Practical Jokes, and the American Music Awards.
It’s the latter that provided me with one of my most indelible Clark moments, one that never aired on television. It was at the 2000 AMAs, and during the commercial break, executive producer Clark was giving instructions to the audience for the next musical performer. He knew that everyone would go wild for the main act, one of the biggest rappers at the time, but he wanted to make sure that they were just as enthusiastic for the artist singing the hook of her latest single, too. After all, Clark said, “She’s a huge star in her own right.” He didn’t want anyone to go home feeling under-appreciated after Eve featuring Faith Evans performed “Love Is Blind.”
That was just like Clark, not only wanting to spread the music, but the love, too.